The New Vision Team consists of Eric Wilsusen, one of two Republican candidates for mayor, and H. Ronald Smith and Melissa Senatore, two of five Republican candidates for the two open seats on the Jefferson Town Council.
Voting will take place during the Republican primary on June 5, which will determine the one mayoral and two council candidates who move on to the general election in November. Only registered Republicans and independents who register as Republicans before, or on the day of, the primary can vote in the primary.
The Jefferson Chronicle interviewed the New Vision Team to get a closer look at why each of them is running and what their plans are if elected.
Inspiration and Bringing Their Backgrounds to the Table
With the exception of Smith, who is finishing up the term of previous councilman Michael Sanchelli since he resigned from office last year, all members of the team are new to the council and mayor positions. As active members of the community, they were all inspired to run to bring fresh, new ideas to the table and make Jefferson a better place than they found it. “It’s a good time for change,” Senatore told The Chronicle.
Smith has worked in public service all his life. He was a school administrator for several years and has a plethora of knowledge about creating and managing budgets, negotiating, and collaborating. He cited his military experience as a time when he learned the importance of working as a team and maintaining organization, all of which he can bring to the table if reelected to the council.
Senatore has been a business person for years, but she believes her experience on the Board of Education has been most important to her in learning about ethics, communications, and compromise. “Being the mother of a family very involved in the town, through the recreation department and school activities, I have volunteered my time to many great organizations and have met a lot of residents over the years,” Senatore told The Chronicle. “My connection to so many community members is an invaluable tool that I will also bring to the council.”
Volunteering for the fire department and working in the police department for several years, Wilsusen has dedicated his life to serving Jefferson. During his time with the police department, he worked his way up to the deputy police chief position. Through his service there, he “learned in great detail about how local government works and how to be a leader,” Wilsusen told The Chronicle. He also noted that his certification in public management will help make him an efficient and knowledgeable mayor.
The New Vision Team was excited to offer new ideas for the town’s economic development. “Working on a job for so long becomes routine, and at some point, there’s no challenge or push to be innovative,” Wilsusen said. “The town needs new people to bring fresh ideas.” Wilsusen listed many “for rent” signs around town and noted that this needs to change, especially with anchor stores including the former Pathmark. “Once big stores like that disappear, the surrounding businesses suffer because the customer traffic is directed elsewhere, such as the ShopRite in Wharton.”
To bring economic development to the town, the team suggested creating an economic development commission. The commission, consisting of heavily involved residents and business people, would look into different business areas for redevelopment through marketing and negotiation strategies. Team members also want to consider what other towns are doing and borrow the ideas that work.
Even though the Highlands Act has limited where businesses can go, the New Vision Team wants to dedicate resources to ensuring that available land is dealt with properly. “We need more businesses, not residents,” Smith said. “If we get more businesses, taxes will go down for the rest of us, and more economic prosperity will be shared with all.”
When asked about the most important issues, Smith and Senatore responded that economic development is one of them, but even more crucial is communication between the people and the town. “At a recent event, Mayor Felter listed plenty of good news about our town. This is wonderful, but why did I have to wait to go to an event to find out about all of this?” Senatore questioned. “We need to learn from what the school board is doing. They put up all their good news on the website. The town needs to do that and more.”
Smith added, “The town also needs to give better explanations and insight when possible. Many people asked about the redevelopment project on Route 181, and even though it was a state project, there should be some follow-up done through the town and a better explanation of what’s going on.”
The team envisioned redesigning the website, hiring a publicity manager, and further utilizing social media. Although there are some news sources for local politics, the team believes that the town should put as much information as possible about the council and mayor’s activities on the website. Social media accounts and a publicity manager can help further the spread of information.
The New Vision Team members believe they stand out because of what their name implies: that it is time for change, that the town needs new people and fresh ideas, and that this team has what the town needs.
“Not only do we have fresh ideas,” Senatore began. “We also have many different backgrounds on this ticket. We have business backgrounds, different community organizations that we’re each a part of, and a variety of experiences working with others and leading.”
Wilsusen said, “Some of the community has no idea what’s going on at times. We need to be more vocal and expressive, and above all else, we aren’t politicians. We are residents working hard for the success of this community.”